Fighting the Competition, One Legislature at a Time

Thanks to an email from a reader, comes this bizarre but all-too-common tale of an industry group supporting licensing to protect itself from competition:

Imagine you were a state legislator and some folks
asked you to pass a law making it a crime to give advice about paint
colors and throw pillows without a license. And imagine they told you
that the only people qualified to place large pieces of furniture in a
room are those who have gotten a college degree in interior design,
completed a two-year apprenticeship, and passed a national licensing
exam. And by the way, it is criminally misleading for people who
practice interior design to use that term without government permission.

You might stare at them incredulously for a moment,
then look down at your calendar and say, "Oh, I get it -- April Fool!"
Right? Wrong.

These folks represent the American Society of Interior
Designers (ASID), an industry group whose members have waged a 30-year,
multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to legislate their competitors
out of business. And those absurd restrictions on advice about paint
selection, throw pillows and furniture placement represent the actual
fruits of lobbying in places like Alabama, Nevada and Illinois, where
ASID and its local affiliates have peddled their snake-oil mantra that
"Every decision an interior designer makes affects life safety and
quality of life."

Legislative analysis by a half-dozen states that
rebuffed ASID's attempts to cartelize interior design -- including
Colorado, Washington and South Carolina -- has failed to support ASID's
claim that the location of your couch or the color of your bedroom
walls is literally a matter of life and death. As the Colorado
Department of Regulatory Agencies put it, there is "no evidence of
physical or financial harm being caused to . . . consumers by the
unregulated practice of interior designers."

I am not sure this even needs comment.  I traditionally end my posts on licensing with this Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Many other posts in the same vein here

  • http://highwayx.wordpress.com Highway

    Radley Balko had a Fox News column about this last week, which garnered a response from ASID, as well as another one in the comments on his blog. They just make themselves look puffed up and uselessly self-important.

    http://www.theagitator.com/2008/03/25/asid-responds/

  • JohnF

    Since the First Amendment protects strippers advising each other on exotic dance moves, (not to mention demonstrating them), I'm hard pressed to see why it wouldn't protect the advice of decorators on furniture moves.

    Of course,I could be wrong.

    But I don't think so.

  • Jeff

    John,

    That stripper better make sure she has a valid permit before working in Houston, TX. Yes, we make "entertainers" in adult oriented businesses pay $60, provide proof of age, home address, and complete criminal background before they are allowed to take their clothes off.

    http://library4.municode.com:80/default/template.htm?view=browse&doc_action=setdoc&doc_keytype=tocid&doc_key=63ffcf7655a64d48880700904c0fdb66&infobase=10123

    Jeff

  • Rocky Mountain

    Why couldn't a plumber have altruistic motives? That's one problem with the Libertarian viewpoint; i.e. they have difficulty in admitting to human motives that aren't completely self-centered or defined by some economic self-interest. I suppose at the bottom of it all we are all 'self-centered' or 'self-interested'. But I would assert that it is not in one's self-interest to allow others to assume an unnecessary risk or hazard especially if one has the means to limit or reduce the hazard. Of course, the case of ASID is certainly in line with self-interested, self-serving, self-aggrandizement!

  • Rocky Mountain

    Why couldn't a plumber have altruistic motives? That's one problem with the Libertarian viewpoint; i.e. they have difficulty in admitting to human motives that aren't completely self-centered or defined by some economic self-interest. I suppose at the bottom of it all we are all 'self-centered' or 'self-interested'. But I would assert that it is not in one's self-interest to allow others to assume an unnecessary risk or hazard especially if one has the means to limit or reduce the hazard. Of course, the case of ASID is certainly in line with self-interested, self-serving, self-aggrandizement!

  • Kevin Dick

    @Rocky Mountain -- If the plumber is feeling altruistic, he should start a rating service of plumbers. Anybody that is concerned about assuming an unnecessary plumbing risk or hazard can consult with him to make sure the plumber they want to hire has the appropriate qualifications. Why exactly does the government have to get involved here? Especially in this day and age when your altruistic plumber can put up a Web site with a checklist of qualifications for about $10/month.

    Heck, if it's really an important source of safety, UL will certify plumbers.

  • Another guy named Dan

    There's a world of difference between an interior designer and an interior decorator. Problem is, from the designers' perspective, that most people only need a decorator.

    If I'm looking to figure out how to move 10,000 people an hour through an airport, or how to lay out an ofice to maximize efficiency, I'll higher a designer. If I want to make sure the curtains don't clash with the sofa, a decorator will do just fine.

    The designers should take a page out of another book and come up wtih the equivilent of "Realtor", then promote the heck out of it if they truly want to differentiate themselves in the market.

  • Bearster

    Actually, it is a profoundly selfLESS person who feels that he would not succeed without forcing his customers or employer to hire him!

    But that's not the point. The issue isn't whether ASID is "selfish" or "selfless". The issue is not whether interior design is "important". It is a flawed argument to say: "XYZ is important, and therefore it should be regulated by the government."

    Regulation is when the government takes control by force. Yes, force as in gunpoint. If you refuse to comply, say for example, if you dispense health care advice without a license, you can be arrested.

    So this is always pushed in the name of the "public interest" or the "consumer" or "public safety." Things that are *important* are to be regulated. It is frustrating to watch the debate:
    1) XYZ is important and should be regulated
    2) XYZ is *not* important and therefore should not be regulated
    3) goto 1

    What about the argument that XYZ is far too important to take away the individual's free judgement and replace it with the arbitrary and capricious edicts of bureaucrats backed by federal marshalls??

  • shunha7878

    In Alabama, one has to have a license for everything now. What usually happens is new business owner ether just works illegally or gives up.